A Call for Civic and Civil Dialogue

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By Rabbi Gregory S. Marx

Parshat Ki Tavo

We all know the truth. Our country is in a terrible moral crisis. Not only are we attacking each other with our ideas, but we are taking up arms against each other.

While some will argue erroneously the problem is video games, mental illness or even the easy access to high-capacity weapons, the problem is far more complex. We are so enraged, frustrated and alienated from one another that it only takes a gust of wind or a tweet to motivate a killer to drive hundreds of miles to shoot shoppers at a Walmart or kill partygoers in Dayton.

I am reminded of a story called There is No Such Thing as a Dragon by Jack Kent. It’s about a small boy, Billy Bixbee, who spies a dragon sitting on his bed one morning.

It’s about the size of a house cat, and friendly. He tells his mother about it, but she tells him that there’s no such thing as a dragon.

So, it starts to grow. It eats all of Billy’s pancakes. Soon it fills the whole house. Mom tries to vacuum, but she has to go in and out of the house through the windows because the dragon is everywhere. It takes her forever.

Then, the dragon runs off with the house. Billy’s dad comes home, and there’s just an empty space where he used to live. The mail carrier tells him where the house went. He finally catches the dragon and confronts it, while his mother still disbelieves. As soon as she sees it, which she can’t ignore, it starts to shrink.

Mom, eyes reluctantly opened by this point, asks somewhat plaintively why it had to get so big. Billy quietly suggests: “Maybe it wanted to be noticed.”

There is no excuse for this violence. There is no excuse for this hatred. There is no excuse for the domestic terror that is killing so many of our community, but it begs the question. Maybe this is call to address the concerns of our citizens in a peaceful and open manner.

Ki Tavo is a portion that asks the people of Israel to confront their past and see the blessings and curses that surround them.

The priests call out from the top of Mount Eval all the curses that will befall them for their lack of faith and then they call out from Mount Gerizim, all the blessings for their piety. While this portion always makes me uncomfortable, because I don’t think we are responsible for what many call “divine reward and punishment,” I do think there is a critical teaching.

We cannot ignore our pains. We must not turn away when others are in pain. Good and evil surround us, and we ignore it at our peril.

We need to create peaceful avenues for our neighbors to express their fears, frustrations and even angers. We need to stand around the mountain and listen to each other and courageously listen to the blessings and the curses.

Anti-Semitism terrifies me, as does homophobia, Islamophobia, racism and sexism. It terrifies me because it often morphs into violence. But what if we could create a healthy vehicle to air our hurts, pains and even hates?

We are at a crossroads. We can either start talking to each other or the killing will continue. Maybe, through civil and civic dialogue, we could disarm the violence we see overwhelming us.

There are, of course, dangers to this process. It could give voice to hate and encourage even more. Or the opposite could happen. Hate could be exposed for its futility and road map to self-destruction. But it’s worth the risk as all therapy is.

There are dragons in our bedroom, and so long as we ignore them, they will only get larger.

Rabbi Gregory S. Marx is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide the Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent.

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